Main Character Problem-Solving Style

In each of the stories below, the Main Character . Dramatica refers to this concept of story structure as the Main Character Problem-Solving Style. A Linear thinker attacks problems sequentially. A Holistic thinker looks to relationships and works the balance between things.

Main Character Problem-Solving Style    

A Clockwork Orange

Alex evaluates matters primarily by cause and effect. When Alex wants something, he simply goes out and gets it. If he needs money, he steals it; if he wants to let out aggression, he beats people up; if he wants sex, he rapes; if his droogs do not listen to him, he teaches them a lesson; wanting to leave prison, he sees the Ludovico treatment as the way out, not as the process it places him in.

A Doll’s House

Nora effectively assesses what she needs to do to maintain the balance in her marriage.

All About Eve

Margo uses holistic problem solving: When she first becomes suspicious of Eve’s motives, Margo smokes a cigarette and thinks about all that’s been happening; she asks Birdie’s opinion of Eve; her intuition kicks in before Bill’s party, and Margo predicts “a disaster in the air.” After her blowup at the audition, Bill asks her what is wrong:
I—I don’t know, Bill. Just a feeling, I don’t know. . .

All That Jazz

Joe evaluates problems in terms of cause and effect. For example, when he comes across organs preserved in formaldehyde, he jokes:

Listen . . . I told you guys you should take better care of yourselves. Too much booze . . . too much smoking . . . too much screwing around . . . it’ll get ya every time. (Aurthur and Fosse 120)


Salieri solves his problems using cause and effect techniques. Once he has perceived Mozart as the problem, he methodically begins his years long campaign of destruction. And he is sure that it will result in resolving the problem.

Apt Pupil

Todd has a linear way of thinking, as illustrated when Rubber Ed asks how it all happened, “‘Oh, one thing just followed another,’ Todd said…‘That’s really how it happened. One thing just…followed another’” (King, 1982, p. 285).

Barefoot in the Park

Paul solves problems by taking steps, for example, he comes to the realization that his controlling behavior is responsible for his imminent divorce. He decides to lose control by getting “Lousy, stinkin’ drunk!” and taking on Corie’s madcap ideas:

Paul: Hey, Corie….Let’s do that thing you said before….Let’s wake up the police and see if all the rooms come out of the crazy neighbors…I want to be a nut like everyone else in this building.

Being There

Chance uses the male problem solving technique of cause and effect. For example, when faced with threatening gang members, he attempts to turn them off with a television remote control.

Blade Runner

Deckard follows clues leading to the replicants in a linear problem-solving technique, and also uses binary reasoning:

Replicants are like any other machine. They can be
a benefit or a hazard. If it’s a benefit, it’s not my problem.
(Fancher and Peoples, p. 12A)

Body Heat

Ned sees each problem as a separate hurdle to jump—each with its own issues, costs, and benefits. As such, Ned is completely blinded to the “bigger picture” of Mattie’s con and consistently falls prey to her manipulations.

Boyz N The Hood

Tre tends to view problems in a linear way, without considering the big picture. In his relationship with Brandi, he wants to take the immediate step of having sex with her, without regard to the consequences that could adversely affect their relationship. For example, Brandi could become pregnant, impeding their college plans and creating a financial struggle to maintain an income necessary to provide for a child. When Tre seeks revenge for the death of his friend, he does not immediately recognize the action will also put himself in danger.


Wallace throws his whole effort into vanquishing the cause of Scotland’s (and his own personal) misery—-English rule and Longshanks’ treachery.

Bringing Up Baby

David is not one to see the bigger picture. He has a tendency to look only at the effects and causes of his circumstances and doesn’t appreciate the process until it is all over. He looks at the effects of Susan’s actions and blames her for all of his problems. He does not understand nor have patience for Susan’s decidedly non-linear way of thinking.

Bull Durham

Annie deals with everything in a holistic way. She doesn’t see problems and solutions per se, but rather processes and balances. Much of her coaching refers to imbalances between the two halves of the brain, and imbalances in the mind-body connection.


Morell thinks linearly; when his marriage is threatened he considers nothing but the threat itself; if he had put the threat in perspective of his happy marriage, he would realize the danger never existed.


A linear thinker, Rick jumps to the conclusion that Ilsa left him in Paris because she loved Laszlo more. When he decides to help Laszlo and Ilsa, he takes a logical series of actions that ensure they will be able to escape without interference from the police or the Nazis.

Charlotte’s Web

Wilbur evaluates problems in terms of cause and effect; for example, when he escapes his pen, it causes an uproar.


Jake looks for clues to see where they will lead him.  Though this helps him locate and identify Evelyn’s daughter/Noah’s granddaughter, he misses the big picture (the intermingled relationships) that a person using female mental sex problem solving techniques might have picked up.

El Mariachi

El Mariachi understands his problem of being pursued is caused by a case of mistaken identity.

Four Weddings And A Funeral

Charles tries to solve problems by looking at causes and their effects.  Unfortunately for him, there isn’t always a clear cut relationship between the two which makes solving his problems very difficult.  For example, when he first discovers that Carrie is engaged to Hamish, he immediately (in his conversation with Matthew) tries to figure out what he’s been doing wrong.


Hamlet tends to use male mental sex problem solving techniques as illustrated in his attempts to gather evidence that “there is something more deeply amiss than his mother’s overhasty marriage to her deceased husband’s brother. . .” (Bevington xx).

Harold and Maude

When Harold sees the effect his supposed death has on his mother, he causes it to happen again and again in a bid to get her attention; to avoid being drafted, he causes his uncle to think he has psychotic tendencies.

Heavenly Creatures

Pauline applies cause and effect reasoning to her encounter with the child psychologist, having him killed by Diello in her imaginary world; with Juliet, she’s worked out the Borovnian “entire royal lineage for the last five centuries”; desperate to go overseas, Pauline takes steps to make in happen—stealing silverware for the fare, applying for a passport, etc.; distressed over the one obstacle standing in her way, Pauline causes an effect—her mother’s death—having carefully worked out the steps of the murder plan.

I Love Lucy

Lucy evaluates her environment in terms of time, especially when it comes to telling Ricky about their baby in a timely manner.


Klute uses the linear reasoning techniques of the policeman that he is, tracking down anyone known to have contact with Tom and gathering evidence.

Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence sees the larger picture of the Middle East situation, and attempts to unite the territorial tribes and achieve post-war self-determination; he intuitively understands that if they cross the Nefud, Auda’s Howeitat will join them, especially if promised gold; he tries to hold together the quarrelsome tribes in his Arab National Council, and get them to cooperate in keeping Damascus functioning as a city; etc.


Humbert uses the male mental sex problem solving technique of cause and effect.  For example, he impresses upon Lolita exactly what will happen to her if she tells anyone the true nature of their relationship:
“. . . A nice grim matron . . . the reformatory, the juvenile detention home . . . By rubbing all this in, I succeeded in terrorizing Lo . . .” (Nabokov 138-9).

Lord of the Flies

Despite a fairly good gut instinct that they are on an island, Ralph still wants to walk the island to make sure they are in fact on an island. He posits they must be rescued because the Queen has a map “with this island on it.” He knows smoke will lead to rescue.

When Samneric see the Beast, Ralph reasons that it must reside somewhere Jack has never visited in his explorations of the island. When ghosts become an issue, he has everyone vote on whether or not ghosts exist.

He also shows a distict lack of being able to deal with holistic problems: “Things are breaking up. I don’t understand why.”


Othello moves to solve his problems by using linear thinking.  When Brabantio accuses Othello of using witchcraft to seduce Desdemona, Othello suggests that she be summoned to give evidence of their courtship.  When he’s disturbed by the commotion during the celebration, Othello demands the witnesses identify those responsible, weighs the evidence, and metes out a punishment.  When Iago accuses Desdemona of adultery, Othello asks for proof.  Having been presented with “evidence” Othello accepts it on face value, without considering why Iago is defaming Desdemona, or contemplating the larger issues surrounding the accusation.


Throughout the film, Chris’ ability and attempts to understand the big picture of war illustrate how he views situations from a holistic, female mental sex standpoint.  As an example, he is able to home in on who it is that is called to war, and who is excused:
KING:  How the fuck you get over here man, you look like you educated…
CHRIS:  I volunteered.
KING:  You what?  Say ‘gain.
CHRIS:  Yeah, I dropped out of college and told ‘em I wanted infantry, combat, and Nam…
He grins, finding their reactions funny.  It’s also the first time we’ve seen Chris crack a smile.
CRAWFORD:  You volunteered for this shit, man?
KING:  You a crazy fucker, givin’ up college, man.
CHRIS:  Didn’t make much sense.  Wasn’t learning anything…  (hesitate) And why should just the poor kids go to the war - and the college kids get away with it.
King and Crawford share a smile.
KING:  What we got here a crusader?
CRAWFORD:  Sounds like it. (Stone, P. 24)
Even though he didn’t see Barnes actually shoot Elias, or has any physical proof of the crime, Chris still knows Barnes murdered Elias.  Chris’ beliefs are derived from the tense, volatile relationship between Elias and Barnes, and the horrible scene where Elias runs from the jungle only to get killed by the enemy soldiers pursuing him.  This sight directly contradicts Sgt. Barnes questionable account of how he earlier found Elias dead in the jungle, prompting the following exchange of dialogue between Chris and other platoon members:
CHRIS:  He killed him.  I know he did.  I saw his eyes when he came back in…
RHAH:  (puffing on his bowl) How do you know the dinks didn’t get him.  You got no proof man.
CHRIS:  Proof’s in his eyes.  When you know you know.  You were there Rhah - I know what you were thinking.  I say we frag the fucker.  Tonight. (Stone, p. 85)
Another instance that illustrates how Chris looks at the war from an overall, holistic standpoint is in the last conversation he has with King:
CHRIS:  Y’ever get caught in a mistake, King, and you just can’t get out of it?
KING:  Way out of anything, man.  Just keep your pecker up and your powder dry, things change.  How many days you short?
CHRIS:  Not just me… it’s the way the whole thing works.  People like Elias get wasted and people like Barnes just go on making up rules any way they want and what do we do, we just sit around in the middle and suck on it!  We just don’t add up to a rat’s ass.
KING:  Whoever said we did, babe.  Make it outta here, it’s all gravy, every day of the rest of your life - gravy…(Stone, p. 95)

Pride and Prejudice

An example of Elizabeth using a female problem solving technique is illustrated when she cannot fathom why Mr. Darcy would interfere with the romance between Mr. Bingley and her sister, Jane.  She looks at the issue holistically, reviewing all the possible objections he could have against her sister and her family, as well as taking into account the possibility that Mr. Darcy may wish to have his friend marry Darcy’s younger sister, Georgiana.  Elizabeth also determines that the fine points Jane has to offer Mr. Bingley more than make up for any deficiency Mr. Darcy may have perceived.  Elizabeth is left to conclude Mr. Darcy’s objections to the match “had been partly governed by this worst kind of pride, and partly by the wish of retaining Mr. Bingley for his sister” (Austen 159).


Abbe de Coulmier evaluates events as cause and effect.  He sees each problem he has with The Marquis as a new issue, to be handled separate and apart from the last.  This problem solving method fails, as The Marquis is able to counter his efforts with his own holistic methods.

Rain Man

Charlie, using linear thinking, attacks his problems straight on.  He puts one business fire out at a time; when the EPA officials bug him, he considers paying them off; when his buyers want to back out of the deal, he gives them a discount; when his loan is due, he gets an extension; when his inheritance is given away, he finds out who got it and tries to make a deal.  When Dr. Bruner doesn’t give Charlie his half of the inheritance, he keeps Raymond, something they want, until he gets what he wants.

Rear Window

Jeff tries to hold together his theory of Thorwald as a murderer in the face of opposition from Stella, Lisa, and especially Doyle.  He’s more interested in the why and when of the murder, leaving the how to Stella and Doyle to consider, and piecing his ideas together to form the big picture.

Rebel Without a Cause

Jim tends to use the technique of binary reasoning to problem solve.  As an example, he demands yes or no answers from his parents.  He also looks at problems in terms of cause and effect.  For example, he believes his mother runs the family because his father won’t stand up to her.

Reservoir Dogs

When Mr. White is confronted with a problem, his solution is to pull out his gun and eliminate the cause.  He comforts the injured Mr. Orange by telling him not to worry, “it takes days to bleed to death” from gunshots to the stomach.

Revenge of the Nerds

Lewis’s first way of understanding anything is structural and he is able to objectify any problem or idea.  He sees getting a house as a set of steps which he tackles one at a time.  When he seduces Betty by pretending to be her boyfriend in a mask, he sees it as an act of obtaining her, rather than a process of deceiving her.

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo uses cause and effect problem solving techniques.  As an example, in his first scene with Benvolio, he explains Rosaline’s cold heart is the cause of his morose behavior—he does not look beyond this to determine the real reason for his unhappiness—that he has not yet found true love.

Rosemary’s Baby

The female mental sex character resolves problems by comparing surpluses to deficiencies, and then taking steps to create a balance. When Guy first refuses to go to the Castevets for dinner, even though Rosemary makes it clear that she promised Mrs. Castevet, she begins reasoning out loud why they should stay home—creating a surplus of reasons acquiesce to Guy’s wishes. She doesn’t push Guy, but eventually he says, “Let’s go.” When her pregnancy becomes a seeming never-ending agony, and no one will listen to her, she throws a party where her friends can assess her shocking physical and emotional condition and push her to see a new doctor. When she grows weary of Minnie’s meddling, she accepts Minnie’s “herbal” drink, but then pours it down the drain. Thus she is dealing with the immediate surplus, but not yet taking steps to resolve the whole problem. When she discovers the truth about her baby, she is armed with a butcher knife as if she is willing to strike at one of the perpetrators, or even her baby. But she is confronted with a different inequity: the need of her baby. The story ends with Rosemary “becoming” the mother to her child, having seen the real deficiency in the situation, the baby’s lack of a mother.

Searching for Bobby Fischer

As a seven year old child, Josh employs both methods of problem solving, but he tends to favor a more holistic approach.  Early in the story, Josh is so reluctant to beat his father at chess, he doesn’t even want to play him.  His reluctance demonstrates his desire to hold the relationship together.  He doesn’t want to change the status quo—the relationship he has with his dad.  He is sensitive to inequities, as demonstrated by his sensitivity to the imbalance between winning and losing, and his sensitivity toward the people around him.


Cause and effect…Mal’s crew needs money…he robs a bank. Inara is in trouble…he goes to rescue her. Mal needs to get past the Alliance armada…he picks a fight with the Reavers and let’s them chase him into battle, and so on.


Miles tries to solve his problems by looking for balance. He lies to everyone in an effort to maintain stable relationships. Holistic thinkers tend to look for balance, aspects of fulfillment and temporal connections, as perfectly exemplified by Miles’s description of Pinot - his favorite wine (which happens to be a metaphor for himself, as opposed to Cabernet which symbolizes his friend Jack): “Pinot is a hard grape to grow, temperamental, ripens early.  It’s not a survivor like Cabernet.  It needs constant care and attention, can only grow under very specific circumstances and realize its full potential with the most patient and nurturing of growers.  Only someone who really takes the time to realize Pinot’s full potential can coax it into its fullest expression.”

Star Wars

Luke is extremely goal (and results) oriented.


Nel uses Sula to creates balance within herself and environment.

Sunset Boulevard

Joe tends to solve problems by using linear thinking:  When his car is about to be repossessed, Joe tries to sell a story to a producer, when that effort fails he asks for money from everyone he knows to make the payments; when he feels suffocated by Norma on New Year’s Eve, he leaves to find a happier party; when offered a chance to work on one of his stories that might sell, Joe sneaks out of Norma’s house to develop the idea; when he decides that he’s no good for Betty, he disgusts her into forgetting about him and marrying a better man.

Taxi Driver

When Travis decides to act on the idea of “True Force” that’s been building up in his brain, he gets “organezized” and breaks the job down into steps: he buys an arsenal of guns; he does physical exercise; he practices at the shooting range; he clips articles on Palantine; he practices drawing his weapons; he cuts his hair into a Mohawk; etc.

The Age of Innocence

Newland moves to solve problems by using linear thinking. When he realizes at the opera that May and her family support Ellen, he immediately goes to the box and suggests announcing his and May’s engagement that very evening to add his family’s support as well; when Mrs. Mingott’s dinner invitations are turned down, he goes to the van der Luydens and convinces them to support Ellen; after Newland learns that Ellen is visiting nearby in Portsmouth, he immediately voices a plan to buy a new horse so that he can travel to see Ellen; he then tracks her down and finds her in Boston.

The Crucible

John focuses on what is the specific cause of a problem, without considering all other possibilities.
Proctor: . . . I know the children’s sickness has naught to do with witchcraft.
Hale: Naught to do—?
Proctor: Mr. Parris discovered them sportin’ in the woods.  They were startled and took sick.
Hale: Who told you this?
Proctor: Abigail Williams.
Hale: . . . Abigail Williams told you it had naught to do with witchcraft!  Why—why did you keep this?
Proctor: I never knew until tonight that the world is gone daft with nonsense. (Miller 68)

The Fugitive

Dr. Kimble is trying to find out who was responsible for his wife’s murder, and the reasons behind the heinous act, by locating the information that leads back to the killer.

The Godfather

Michael uses a linear, cause and effect manner of looking at problems.  He sees the relations of all the families as different links in one hierarchy of power, completely ignoring the holistic effects the families’ methods have on the women and children who are, in his eyes, “not involved.”  His keen sense of logic is what allows him to see that he is the perfect candidate to kill the “Turk.”  He sees a very binary relationship between people who are “in” the family vs. people who aren’t, warning Fredo never to take sides against the family.  He is also able to ultimately convince himself that his “business” has nothing to do with his wife and that because she is “not involved” she should not ask him about it.

The Graduate

Ben tends to solve problems from a very linear, cause and effect perspective, without paying much attention to the big picture.

The Philadelphia Story

Tracy is a goal setter.  She immediately looks at causes and effects, and tries to solve problems in a very linear manner.

The Piano Lesson

Berniece uses female problem solving techniques.  She tries to uncover Boy Willie’s motive behind his unexpected visit.  She sets conditions upon having Boy Willie and Lymon in her house.  She considers her family’s history surrounding the piano and concludes that it cost too much in suffering to give up.

The Silence of the Lambs

Clarice methodically follows up each clue provided by Hannibal Lecter and others to gather evidence that eventually leads her to Buffalo Bill.

The Simpsons Christmas Special

Homer uses the male problem solving techniques of cause and effect.  As an example, he thinks by taking a part-time job, he will earn enough money to buy gifts.  He is quite dismayed later to discover the big picture—gross pay minus many deductions equals minimal net pay.

The Sun Also Rises

Jake is goal oriented, as exemplified by his focus on the possibility of winning Brett.  He doesn’t see the big picture—that is, he can’t see that his physical impairment will never change and that she will never be able to accept it.  He tries to pull it all together by always being available to her and her needs, and by continually pleading with her to stay with him.

The Verdict

Frank tries to determine the cause of Ms. Kay’s condition by examining the effects.

The Wild Bunch

When his “family” members squabble amongst themselves, Pike gives them pep talks in an effort to hold the Wild Bunch together:
SYKES:  That was a mighty fine talk you gave the boys ‘bout stickin’ together.  That Gorch was near killin’ me—or me him—
(Green and Peckinpah, p. 33)
With Thornton closing in, and his own men ready for fight or flight, Pike looks at the bigger picture:
LYLE:  We kin stay right up here and kick hell out of ‘em.
PIKE:  No water.
DUTCH:  Make a run for the border?
PIKE:  They’d be after us every step of the way—I know Thornton.  No, I’m tired of being hunted—we go back to Agua Verde and let the general take care of those boys.
LYLE:  You’re crazy!... Back with those greasers!
PIKE:  He’s so tickled with the guns he’ll be celebrating for a week and happy to do us a favor.  Thornton ain’t going after us in there.  While they’re busy picking over old Freddy’s pockets, we’ll take the back trail off this mountain and head for town.
(Green and Peckinpah, p. 99)
NOTE:  The obstacle character, Deke Thornton, also has a female mental sex.  He too, tries to hold together his group of misfits, but by using threats.  He’s able to grasp the bigger picture of how things work, which allows him to work for Harrigan and to join Sykes at story’s end.  He can intuit what Pike is thinking at any given time, as they share the same problem solving techniques.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Scout considers each problem she comes up against as a separate issue, not realizing the connections that make up a bigger picture.


Michael tends to solve his problems using linear thinking:  He needs money to produce Jeff’s play and tells his agent he’ll do anything to get it, even appear in commercials.  When he’s told he’s unemployable as a actor, he poses as an actress to get an audition for “Southwest General.”  After he lands the job, Michael devises a step-by-step morning routine to transform himself into Dorothy, and creates an allergy story to avoid the studio makeup person.  When informed that his soap opera character is a wimp, Michael solves the problem by improvising Dorothy’s lines on the spot—without consulting the show’s producer or writers.

Toy Story

Woody is almost entirely focused on the effects he wants to achieve and how to directly cause them; “balance,” “surplus,” and “deficiency” rarely enter his considerations.  His very linear approach is most dramatically demonstrated when he thinks, “Hmm, if I cause Buzz to disappear behind the desk, Andy will have to pick me to go to Pizza Planet, and I’ll win his favor back.”  He then attempts a very simple cause-and-effect operation to use RC Car to push Buzz off the desk, but fails to see the relationships among the objects on the desk that will make his plan go awry.  He also fails to consider how his actions will tip the delicate balance of public opinion against him.  Later, however, when he pulls the mutant toys together and lays out a very linear, step-by-step strategy to save Buzz from Sid, his Male approach is very effective.


Munny uses cause and effect, linear reasoning.  Having trouble with animals, he figures that:
MUNNY:  Now this here horse is gettin’ even on me… hold on gal… for the sins of my youth… before I met… your dear-departed mother… I was weak an’ givin’ to mistreatin’ horses an’ such.  An’ this here horse… an’ that ole pig, too, I guess… is my comeuppance for my cruelty…
(Peoples, p. 21)
When he can’t hit a coffee can with the pistol, he switches to a shotgun; told that Little Bill caused Ned’s death, Munny eliminates him.

Washington Square

Catherine is able to evaluate people in a holistic manner, for example:
“To her mind there was nothing of the infinite about Mrs. Penniman; Catherine saw her all at once . . .” (James 10)

When Harry Met Sally

Harry does not need to be fulfilled mentally when seeking a solution to a problem. He needs only to be satisfied.


When Amish elders object to harboring Book—because if he dies, the policemen will come, investigate, disrupt, cause publicity, etc.,—Rachel looks at the bigger picture.  She responds that they must make it so that they never find his body, without going into details of how they would accomplish that.

X-Files: Beyond the Sea

Scully approaches problems using linear thinking:  She decides that since her father never told her he was proud of her being in the FBI, he must not have been; follows clues to an abandoned warehouse and finds evidence; decides that with only three days left to save the teenagers, they must deal with Boggs to get information; reasons that because Mulder was shot, Boggs must have orchestrated the attack.

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